Tuvalu is one of the many Blue Pacific countries strongly impacted by international border restrictions. Pacific Periscope caught up with Darryl Farshid Ikbal – EIF Support Officer for the Department of Trade in Tuvalu. We chatted about what the Government of Tuvalu is doing to mitigate the economic risks for their people.
The nearly 12,000 strong population of Tuvalu has remained COVID free thanks to early border closures. However, the fight to help those whose livelihoods depended on tourism dollars has remained a battle throughout.
Darryl acknowledges the effect the pandemic has had on the Tuvaluan people.
“Our borders are completely shut. We had to go hard and fast because we knew we didn’t have the healthcare infrastructure to be able to cope with a pandemic.
“Right from the beginning the pandemic has seriously impacted a large group of Tuvaluans. Many rely on tourist dollars to make their weekly income.
The Talofa Trade Fair
As COVID-19 continued to rage around the world, in the last days of 2020 Tuvalu, which is COVID -free, made the decision to progress with their annual Talofa Trade Fair.
This is the seventh year for the Talofa Trade Fair which started in 2013 with an inaugural theme of “Your Resources, Your Strength, Your Wealth”.
The fair focusses on activities that support the promoting of private sector local products, sourcing and strengthening local investment, creating employment opportunities, and mainstreaming trade together with the country’s overall sustainable development plan.
Darryl says, “We wanted the community to know that just because of our borders weren’t open doesn’t mean our businesses couldn’t be open. Having the trade fair continue in this year of upheaval definitely lends a sense of structure to an otherwise fluctuating world.”
We also appreciate the time that Ms. Lino Uino took out to share her skills in weaving. This is knowledge and skills that is usually passed down from generations to generations and we encourage that such knowledge and culture is preserved as this is what makes Tuvalu unique. Fafetai lasi Ms Lino Uino!!Posted by Tuvalu Department of Trade on Wednesday, December 9, 2020
TAU MAKETI – For the People
Consistency is a great keeper of sanity in this day and age but what about innovative thinking to help address the issues brought on by the pandemic?
In Tuvalu they have this covered as well. Working in close collaboration with the Department of Business, and with funding support from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) project the TAU-MAKETI initiative was launched.
TAU MAKETI means YOUR MARKET, starting in October 2020 it was created to help support small businesses to become active players in the Tuvalu domestic market, acknowledging economic constraints on people due to border restrictions.
No Financial Burden to Small Businesses
The committee in charge of the market made the early decision not charge the business community with any fees for participating in TAU MAKETI. The committee set up the venue, stalls, tables, and chairs and cover any transportation costs which included picking up their products from their homes, payment of boat and fuel for those in the nearby islets.
“We made this decision because it was our way of showing people that we were there for them and their small business. It has been already very hard for most people and we wanted them to be able to join TAU MAKETI without any extra stress or burden to them,” explains Darryl.
“Because of border closures and lockdowns, we’ve got a lot of business people who are not able to make ends meet. There are no planes arriving or departing Funafuti so they can’t sell handicrafts, or locally made food this way anymore.
“TAU MAKETI is really looking to help relieve the stress and anxiety that this loss of income is causing to people.
“We want to get all the small businesses to come to one location and sell their locally made products. There has already been such a variety on display from handicrafts, to paintings, clothing and locally cooked food and delicacies.”
Darryl acknowledges the difficulties in this, “Look… we know this is selling Tuvaluan handicrafts to Tuvaluans, so there is a bit of a barrier to get through here – but we’re also hoping people can re-meet their own culture and know that there are some great things that they might have previously thought were just for tourists that they can enjoy too.”
Pacific Business Monitor Notes Upward Surge
Tuvalu has been a consistent responder to the PTI Network’s Pacific Business Monitor survey that comes out monthly. Due to this several Tuvalu focussed reports have been created – and they tell an interesting story of a people, and country, determined to face pandemic life realities and to adapt to a new world order.
One of the interesting figures to note is in the Wave 7 Tuvalu focussed report where 46% of businesses responded that they were confident their business would survive the COVID-19 crisis.
Fast forward a couple of months to Wave 9 and the results continue to show a positive trajectory. In line with rising confidence in business survival, the proportion of businesses in Tuvalu that are confident their business will survive is an overwhelmingly positive 100%.
Darryl says the results in the latest PBM were great to see and thinks there have been a couple of actions that he and others in the Government and Tuvalu National Private Sector Organisation (TNPSO) have been taking that may have directly contributed to the positive upswing.
Darryl says now more than ever it is important that Tuvaluans see constancy and steadiness from their government.
Success and Positivity
The feedback from the first two markets show there is definitely a desire for this in the community.
He says the feedback was very positive. “When I look at our Wave 9 report results I have to think to myself that the positive upsurge in the people thinking their businesses could survive COVID-19 could, in no small part, be related to the creation of TAU MAKETI.”
“It hasn’t just been the fact that people can sell their wares either,” says Darryl. “It’s been the social aspect of creating the market. The sight that people are coming out and congregating together, learning how to sell to people around them, thinking outside being reliant on tourism.
“We’re also working with a number of the farmers to help them schedule their crop growing. Running it at the same time every month gives them the scheduling to know when they need to have their crops ready for market.
TAU MAKETI in 2021
TAU MAKETI will continue to be run one day each month.
Darryl says currently the focus is on mainland Funafuti with the nearby islets invited as well.
“The number of registered vendors increased from October to November and we are expecting a greater turn out for January 2021.
“This year we also want to extend the market to the outer islands including the Central, Southern and Northern Islands of Tuvalu.”
PTI NZ wishes all the best of success for TAU MAKETI.
All photos are videos courtesy of Darryl Farshid Ikbal.